Terminations: A True Test of Your Company Culture

All of us have heard about messy terminations, and some of us have witnessed them firsthand. The most memorable are the employee who is escorted from the building, scowling at managers on the way out, or the guy who punches a hole in the conference room drywall in a fit of frustration. There’s also the person who quits without confrontation or communication, packing up their things when nobody’s watching, and leaving an “I Quit!” note for their supervisor.

The circumstances around other terminations are just plain awkward, and when you see the ex-employee in the grocery store, you unknowingly head to the Tampax aisle (even though you’re a single guy) just to avoid the conversation.

How can you avoid ugly terminations? Here are four suggestions for building the right culture:

  1. Don’t hire based on skill and personality only. Hire high character people. Don’t think of character as honesty alone. Character includes kindness (considers others feelings), service (good steward and peacemaker), humility (admits personal faults), respectfulness (treats others with dignity), and gratitude (shows appreciation). Ask questions that give you insight into these traits.
  2. Actually care about the people you hire. Some of the best advice I received as a young manager was, “Care about Aunt Martha’s big toe.” In other words, your concern for employees should go beyond their productivity at work. Genuinely care about them as people, and they’ll return the sentiment.
  3. Share your organization’s principles and explain the “why” behind your company’s actions. When employees don’t have all the facts, they frequently fill in the gaps with erroneous information. The more data you provide your people, the fewer gaps they’ll need to fill in on their own. This takes time, but it’s worth the investment.
  4. Stay close to your people. Don’t manage through reports only. Don’t assume your best or most veteran employees are fine and don’t need to talk with you regularly. Make sure you get out from behind your desk and engage in as many face-to-face interactions as you can. Have at least monthly meetings or lunches one-on-one with your direct reports. There’s no substitute for a competent manager staying close to a person. Be that manager.

At my company (Jameson Publishing), our hiring best practices have reduced our turnover significantly, but you can’t eliminate it completely. Last month, an eight-year sales employee left our team for an opportunity to be part of a start-up company. Here’s the email he sent to all employees just before he walked out the door:

Sent: Friday, November 16, 2012 10:49 AM
Subject: Good Bye!

Hello Everyone!

I wanted to send a quick email to say “Good Bye.” I have tried my best to get around to see everyone to let them know that I was leaving because I feel that it is time for me to push out of my comfort zone and take advantage of an opportunity to see what my potential can be.

I will truly miss everyone here. I have grown up with this company, almost 8 years. Two kids, engaged, great friends, and it has made me a better person.

People have different opinions about every topic in the world and that’s why they are “opinions.” Well here is a fact. One thing this company has done right and will continue to do right is that they hire stellar people. Great people. I feel that being a part of this company has made me a better person, and I contribute that to all of you.

One more anecdote for you: Two weeks ago, a former employee of ours spent most of the morning in our office showing off her three-month old baby boy. After talking with me for nearly half an hour, she changed her son’s (incredibly) dirty diaper on my office floor. Her son then proceeded to spit up on her shoulder, side, and lower back, which I helped clean up.

That might have been the highlight of my work week, even though our sales team brought in over $1 million that week. It reinforced to me that we’ve built a positive company culture — a community that will always include our former employees.

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Happy hiring!

And happy holidays!


photo from Bigstock

Jim Roddy is the president of Jameson Publishing and author of the book “Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer,” which features hiring lessons, interview best practices, and recruiting strategies for managers through the perspective of a cancer-surviving executive. For more information on the book, go to http://www.HireLikeYouJustBeatCancer.com.


9 Comments on “Terminations: A True Test of Your Company Culture

  1. Dear Jim,

    Truer words were never spoken!

    At a previous employment, the Director of Admissions was such a people person. He remembered when an employee’s family member had a baby, or an Anniversity, etc. As a result, the Admissions Department rarely missed their goals and more than not, exceeded goals.

    The Director of Admissions works at another college and has been there for over 1 year. Again, he has never missed goal and has exceeded expectations. He doesn’t spend money on his people to bribe them. He is a people person and his reports love him and do not want to disappoint him.

    We need as a culture to get back to basics and remember “customer service” and what that means.

    Last week at the grocery store, I actually tipped a bag boy because he was doing his job, but because receiving customer service is not the norm anymore, he was extraordinary.

    Thank you Jim for this article.


  2. How does a company screen for character? Is that defensible? I’m not challenging the common sense points on your good article, but I’m only asking on the assessment side. Impact is easier to quantify, as are skills. It may be more difficult to screen on character on the front than we think really.

    A great company makes a point of firing non-performers. Nothing ruins a culture more than non-performing staff who don’t pull their weight. It only ANGERS the high-performers and de-motivates everyone. A company who can get this right is a great one in my opinion. The ones which struggle to fire seem to me to seal their doom toward mediocrity and irrelevance.

  3. hanks. Jim. The four suggestions you mnention make a great deal of sense, and they are the opposite of what the vast majority of companies practice today.


  4. Diane & Keith: Thanks for the kind words — much appreciated!

    Robert: Good questions. Yes, a company can screen for culture and it not only is defensible, it’s a requirement (in my opinion) for a healthy organization. At the risk of being self-promotional, here’s a link to an ERE article I wrote on the subject. And of course you can always buy my book “Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer.” 🙂


  5. I agree that your suggestions go a long way to creating a company culture that promotes communication and relationship. However, I also recognize how difficult it can be to screen for character. You can certainly get a feel for someone’s work ethic and how well they connect with the office “vibe” but it is not always easy to know ahead of time exactly what who you’re hiring. I have said it before and I’ll say it again- the best hires come AFTER a solid job description including expectation and assessment plans is created and time invested in an organic interview that allows for discussion rather than just questions. Hopefully, if those things are done correctly, new hires are a great match.
    Ken Schmitt

  6. Great article. Once you have worked in an environment like that it’s extremely hard to acclimate to a new cold environment. Who would want to? From experience, it’s not easy to go from one extreme to another. That’s a lesson many learn the hard way. When you know what’s important to you, you can ask the right questions in the interview process and judge for yourself if that will be a good enough future home for you. What company is that anyway? I might just have to make the switch myself!

  7. @ Jim: You’re very welcome.
    @ Everybody: I was trying to *google for “character tests” and validity, and I got a weird thing- most of the papers/research seemed to be from the first half of the last century. Not quite sure what that means…



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